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American Sociological Association: Risk of Marijuana's 'Gateway Effect' Overblown, New Research Shows
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Risk of Marijuana’s ‘Gateway Effect’ Overblown, New UNH Research Shows
WASHINGTON, D.C., Sept. 2, 2010 — New research from the University of New Hampshire shows that the so-called "gateway effect" of marijuana – that teenagers who use marijuana are more likely to move on to harder illicit drugs as young adults – is overblown.
Whether teenagers who smoked pot will be more likely to use other illicit drugs as young adults has more to do with life factors such as employment status and stress, according to the new research. In fact, the strongest predictor of whether someone will use other illicit drugs is their race/ethnicity, not whether they ever used marijuana.
Conducted by UNH associate professors of sociology Karen Van Gundy and Cesar Rebellon, the research appears in the September 2010 issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior in the article titled “A Life-course Perspective on the ‘Gateway Hypothesis.’ ”
“In light of these findings, we urge U.S. drug control policymakers to consider stress and life-course approaches in their pursuit of solutions to the ‘drug problem,’ ” Van Gundy and Rebellon said.
The researchers used survey data from 1,286 young adults who attended Miami-Dade public schools in the 1990s. Within the final sample, 26 percent of the respondents are African American, 44 percent are Hispanic, and 30 percent are non-Hispanic white.
The researchers did find that a high-risk category of young adults – those who did not graduate from high school or attend college – were more likely to have used marijuana as teenagers and other illicit substances in young adulthood. In addition, those who used marijuana as teenagers and were unemployed following high school were more likely to use other illicit drugs.
However, the association between teenage marijuana use and other illicit drug abuse by young adults fades once stresses, such as unemployment, diminish.
“Employment in young adulthood can protect people by ‘closing’ the marijuana ‘gateway,’ so over-criminalizing youth marijuana use might create more serious problems if it interferes with later employment opportunities,” Van Gundy explained.
In addition, once young adults reach age 21, the gateway effect subsides entirely.
“While marijuana use may serve as a gateway to other illicit drug use in adolescence, our results indicate that the effect may be short-lived, subsiding by age 21. Interestingly, age emerges as a protective status above and beyond the other life statuses and conditions considered here. We find that respondents ‘age out’ of marijuana’s gateway effect regardless of early teen stress exposure or education, work, or family statuses,” the researchers said.
The researchers found that the strongest predictor of other illicit drug use appears to be race/ethnicity, not prior use of marijuana. The greatest odds of other illicit substance use was among non-Hispanic whites, followed by Hispanics, and then by African Americans.
About the American Sociological Association and the Journal of Health and Social Behavior
The American Sociological Association (www.asanet.org), founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society. The Journal of Health and Social Behavior is a quarterly, peer-reviewed journal of the ASA.
The research article described above is available by request for members of the media. Contact Daniel Fowler, ASA's Media Relations and Public Affairs Officer, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 527-7885.
For more information about the study, members of the media can also contact Lori Wright in UNH Media Relations at (603) 862-0574 or email@example.com or study author Karen Van Gundy at (603) 862-1896 or firstname.lastname@example.org.